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FEATURE STORY

Development Program Touches the Lives of Morocco's Poorest Millions

November 2, 2010


  • Morocco’s National Human Development Initiative is the first large scale Community Driven Development program in the Middle East and North Africa region.
       
  • The Bank has supported the $1.2 billion project along with 17 other donor organizations contributing $100 million.
       
  • The challenge would be to ensure the sustainability of the income generating activities that it helps individuals and communities create.

 

Agadir, November 2, 2010 – Morocco’s National Human Development Initiative (INDH) is the first large scale Community Driven Development program in the Middle East and North Africa region and one of the largest worldwide reaching around five million people.

Marking its fifth anniversary with an international forum to assess the road travelled and lessons learned, the event attracted some 1000 participants including representatives of around 400 non-governmental organizations.

The Bank has supported the $1.2 billion project along with 17 other donor organizations contributing $100 million. At the opening ceremony on Monday November 1 in the seaside town of Agadir, MENA Vice President Shamshad Akhtar, joined a high-level panel to deliver a message of congratulations along with a tough measure of the challenges ahead, including the persistent pockets of poverty in some rural areas.

“In the context of MENA, INDH is an ambitious, large scale and innovative program,” said Akhtar to the international gathering. “It breaks the mold of centrally driven programs which had little connection to community realities. Its hallmark focus is on participatory community decision making. And it’s this participatory approach that is the game changer.”

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who grew up in this popular tourist town, addressed the forum stressing the imperative of job creation for the world in the wake of the financial and economic crisis, especially for young people in emerging countries.

In MENA this challenge is made all the starker by the fact that, by Bank estimates, the region needs to create 50 million new jobs by 2020 to absorb its young graduates. Right now 30% of MENA citizens are between the ages of 15 and 29 and 25% of them are unemployed.

The dense vacation infrastructure of Agadir was a long way from the plains of the Atlas Mountains though where Akhtar visited several projects supported by the INDH. She also saw the lush green orange groves of Guerdane where 10,000 hectares have been recovered in an IFC-supported public private partnership which created water infrastructure to save the trees condemned by over exploited aquifers.

Argan oil, an edible and indigenous product of a scrappy-looking tree which grows wild across the plains of the Agadir coast, has been harvested there for generations. Now it is catching on globally as a beauty product and the INDH has been helping local women to modernize production. The old grinding stone has been replaced by machines in small co-ops and a gas-fired oven toasts the nuts rather than the original wood-fired braziers. The sharp cracking of the fearsome shells is still done by hand though by women sitting in huddles on the ground.

“To me these women are so emblematic of the connections we must make between skills and opportunity, between local effort and wider markets and all this underpinned by strong inclusive growth policies,” said Akhtar. “We know that sustainable economic growth is the path to poverty reduction but we know this is not automatic. It needs to find its target among the most vulnerable like the women grinding away at the Argan nuts.”

In Morocco, 43% of the population still lives in rural areas where poverty incidence is near 14.5%. In the tougher mountain terrain of the Atlas it can reach 35%.

Akhtar also urged patience for the participatory process that brings the voices and choices of local communities to the forefront of development.

While the INDH has brought civil society, women and youth to the table, their effective voice has yet to emerge. CDD efforts require longer hand holding and patient and large investments in social mobilization to move from representation to real engagement.”

Cyprian Fisiy, the World Bank’s Director of Social Development, who brought international lessons to the forum, cautioned against breaking trust with communities. Once their voices were encouraged, he said, it was critical for them to experience follow through of their ideas to avoid cynicism and disillusion. Critical too was an alignment of community ideas and ambitions with the budgeting processes of local officials. “For CDD to work, the various government resources need to align to designs that emerge from the bottom up,” said Fisiy. “This has been an important lesson for us in experiences across the world.”

Akhtar noted that the core challenge for any phase two of INDH would be to ensure the sustainability of the income generating activities that it helps individuals and communities create. She said there were potentially important linkages to be made to micro-finance lending, an activity that the MENA region of the Bank hopes to boost with a MENA-wide micro, small and medium enterprise fund now in preparation as part of the Arab World Initiative.

An equally sharp challenge was that of taking the CDD approach to scale across MENA where poverty, although improving in its incidence, remained stubbornly flat as an absolute number due to high population growth.

It is expected that the Bank will consider funding for a second phase of INDH based on a comprehensive assessment of phase one, according to the Bank’s project leader Mohamed Medouar.


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